"Lili Marlene" is a German poem that was made into a popular World War II song cherished by both the Axis and the Allies for its “husky, nostalgic, and sensous” feel. Later taken up by the Germans as a sort of propaganda tune that closed radio broadcasts each night during the war, it is also the title of this new musical by Michael Antin which has enjoyed success in its West Coast run, and now makes it’s Off Broadway debut at The St. Luke’s Theatre on 46th Street on Tuesday, August 1st at 7:00PM.
In this fictionalized version, the song is made popular by a cabaret singer, Rosie Penn (played by Amy Londyn), pre-WWII Berlin. The story centers around the unlikely romance between Ms. Penn and a very infatuated, young German count by the name of Count Willi (Clint Hromsco). The two couldn’t be at more opposite ends of the social spectrum of this world, but are bound by a growing love affair and their opposition to the rise of the Nazi regime. The obvious discovery that Ms. Penn is Jewish goes on to heighten the drama and the conflict they must face. Unlike some musicals like “The Sound of Music” which sugar coats the subject matter, “Lili Marlene” deals with it head on, which is a tricky thing to do in a musical. Still, it turns out to be a very interesting new perspective on life during the rise of Hitler in the heart of Berlin, as the story delves into the lives of the German upper class, and in particular the royal families, working and living in this dangerous and frightening pre-war world.
The play, nonetheless, is at its best musically and vocally. The casting for the most part is excellent, and vocally the entire ensemble is spot on. As the two leads, Amy Londyn in the role of Rosie Penn, makes a phenomenal Off Broadway debut. She has a beautiful and engaging voice and is charasmatic and real in her portrayal of the young cabaret star, although I have to admit that I perceive that pre-war world to be a bit more gritty and edgy than depicted. Still, she is a joy to watch.
Equally engaging is Clint Hromsco as the enfatuated Count. As a governement administrator loyal to Germany’s president, Paul von Hindenburg, the count is responsible for the issuance of passports to German citizens wishing to get out of the country as the tide is turning to Nazism and the cleansing has begun. The count and his family all face personal choices that test their loyalty the Nazi regime, as well as to their own personal moral convictions. Therein lies crux of the drama.
Musically, Hromsco has some wonderful numbers and duets with his leading lady and his velvety voice does much to bring these numbers to fruition.
The rest of the ensemble is also enjoyable to watch and they manage to do quite a lot with this relatively small stage, including bringing to life some big numbers, like at the start of the play when they sing, “Fill My Stein With Beer.”
Act one, in the preview I attended, was loaded with musical numbers, but to me, Act two was the most dramatic, even dark at moments, yet highly engaging.
You can see “Lili Marlene The Musical” every Tuesday at 7PM at the St. Luke’s Off Broadway Theatre, 308 West 46th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), New York, NY 10036.
It opens August 1st and tickets are available by going to Telecharge (https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Lili-Marlene-The-Musical/Overview)